Kremlin Says Putin-Trump Meeting Still Being Prepared Despite Trump’s Remark

Tom Ozimek
By Tom Ozimek
November 28, 2018World News
Kremlin Says Putin-Trump Meeting Still Being Prepared Despite Trump’s Remark
President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Kremlin officials said on Nov. 28 that they expect a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to go ahead at the G20 summit in Argentina later this week, despite Trump saying he may cancel it over Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships.

Trump said on Nov. 27 that he might cancel the meeting after the Russian navy’s seizure of three Ukrainian vessels off the coast of Crimea and detention of Ukrainian crew members. Trump said, however, that he was still awaiting a “full report” from his national security team about the incident.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that the Kremlin was aware of the statement by Trump, but that the meeting had been approved and was still being prepared.

“The preparations (for the meeting) are continuing. The meeting is agreed. We don’t have any different information from our American colleagues,” Peskov said during a daily briefing, according to AFP.

Peskov said Moscow “paid attention” to a White House spokesman’s briefing on Tuesday, and indications were that the meeting had not been formally called off.

“It was said that Trump is planning a range of meetings, including with Putin,” Peskov said.

National security adviser John Bolton gave no indication at the White House briefing that the meeting had been formally called off, with CNN’s Jim Sciutto citing Bolton as saying “I think it will be a continuation of their discussion in Helsinki.”

Ukraine Imposes Martial Law

Ukraine has imposed martial law for 30 days in parts of the country most vulnerable to an attack from Russia after President Petro Poroshenko warned of the “extremely serious” threat of a land invasion.

Poroshenko said on Nov. 26 that martial law was necessary to bolster Ukraine’s defences after Russia seized the Ukrainian ships and took their crew prisoner.

The Ukrainian Parliament approved the introduction of martial law after Poroshenko reassured some skeptical lawmakers that it would not be used to curb civil liberties or delay elections scheduled for next year.

It came at the end of a day when Ukraine and Russia traded accusations about Sunday’s standoff and Kiev’s allies weighed in to condemn Moscow’s behavior.

International Response

President Trump said he was working with European leaders on the situation.

“We do not like what’s happening either way and, hopefully, it will get straightened out,” Trump said, according to ABC news.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s seizure of the Ukrainian vessels “a dangerous escalation and a violation of international law” and called for restraint from both countries.

“The United States condemns this aggressive Russian action. We call on Russia to return to Ukraine its vessels and detained crew members, and to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Pompeo said in a statement.

NATO on Tuesday emphasized its “full support to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” noting there is no justification for Russia’s use of military force against Ukrainian ships. It urged Russia to release the Ukrainian seamen and vessels promptly.

Conflict At Sea

The skirmish occurred in the strategically significant Kerch Strait, where a Kremlin-built bridge connects Russia to the southeastern portion of Ukraine that’s occupied by Russia-backed forces.

Russia said the Ukrainian ships illegally crossed into Russian waters and called the crisis a “planned provocation.”

Ukraine contends that its vessels followed international maritime rules.

A video filmed from aboard a Russian vessel shows Russians chasing the Ukrainian tugboat and ramming the vessel.

A photograph of the damaged Ukrainian vessel was published Nov. 26 on a military news website, showing the damage allegedly from a Russian 30mm naval cannon projectile.

Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s human rights commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova, as saying on Nov. 26 that 24 Ukrainian sailors were being detained. Three of the sailors were wounded but were not in serious condition.

Forced Confessions?

Russian FSB officials published footage of the sailors on Nov. 26 showing fragments of their interrogation.

In the recordings, the sailors appear to admit to breaching Russian territorial waters.

“En route to Mariupol via the Kerch Strait, we entered Russian territorial waters,” one of the sailors can be heard in the video. “Border patrol officials of the Russian Federation warned us that we were in violation of Russian law. The ordered us multiple times to leave Russian territorial waters.”

Another sailor said that the actions of the Ukrainian crew were “provocative.”

Ukrainian media has denounced the confessions, saying they were most probably coerced.

Russia on Nov. 27, began prosecuting the Ukrainian crew members.

Ukraine demanded that Russia stop using “psychological and physical pressure” on the sailors, with Ukraine’s top diplomat calling the men “prisoners of war,” and telling The Associated Press that displaying them on TV was a crime.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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